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So far, Gwinnett's 2013 homicide total lowest in a decade

LAWRENCEVILLE — Barring tragedy in the coming days, 2013 will bring the lowest homicide total that Gwinnett County has seen in more than a decade.

Through Saturday, statistics provided by the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner’s Office charted 27 homicides for the year, a tally which includes murders and justified killings like self-defense and police-involved shootings. The count would mark a roughly 35 percent decrease from last year’s spike — and the lowest total seen in Gwinnett since 2002.

The Gwinnett County Police Department has seen 23 of those homicides, a total that would be its lowest since 2003.

The reason behind the dip is hard to quantify, but a good starting point is the fact that GCPD only saw one homicide tied to a robbery and just three related to the drug trade.

“Without a lot of criminal or criminally motivated homicides,” spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith said, “it certainly can lend itself to low numbers.”

Aside from three officer-involved shootings, the remainder of the county department’s homicides were domestic-related. The latter — whether between husband and wife, friends, or other people who know each other — are “nearly impossible” for police departments to prevent, Smith said.

As far as the drop in robbery and drug-related homicides, Smith stopped short of giving the department specific credit but said that the robbery unit had taken down “some pretty violent armed robbery crews” since the start of 2012. An increased officer presence in areas where armed robberies are known to occur may have played a role as well.

“It’s hard to say, but I’m sure that arrests we have made have certainly prevented homicides,” Smith said. “Those are certainly people that, with the escalating violence, certainly could have committed homicides.”

After hitting an all-time high of 50 in 2007, Gwinnett’s annual homicide totals had decreased every subsequent year. The number reached as low as 28 before bounding back up to 41 in 2012 — the second-highest total ever.

It appears now, though, that the jump may have been the exception and not the rule.

Gwinnett County police went the first two months of 2013 without a fresh homicide, though city departments dealt with a pair of tragic cases.

On Jan. 4, Snellville police began investigating the death 48-year-old Darrell Johnson, shot and killed by his daughter’s estranged boyfriend. The shooting was ultimately ruled self-defense. On Jan. 26, Phillip Sailors, 69, shot and killed 22-year-old Rodrigo Diaz, who was lost and turned around in his Lilburn driveway. Sailors reportedly feared a crime was about to be committed but has been charged with murder by the Lilburn Police Department.

Other high-profile cases included:

— The April 10 officer-involved shooting of Lauren Holman Brown, who had taken four Gwinnett County firefighters hostage inside his Suwanee home.

— The July 27 murder of Korean couple Young Chan and Sun Hee Choi, believed to be brutally stabbed to death inside their Duluth home. Former employee Ki Song Kim has been indicted in their deaths and will face the death penalty when his case goes to trial.

— The Sept. 15 triple homicide on Anderson Livsey Lane outside Snellville. Suspect Robert Bell, arrested a month later in Louisiana, is accused of shooting and killing Angela Benton, her 12-year-old son and her 19-year-old godson. His motive is unknown and the crime is being considered domestic.

— The Nov. 9 discovery of 10-year-old Emani Moss’ body, partially burned and starved to death outside her family’s Lawrenceville apartment. Moss’ father and stepmother have been charged in her death, which sparked widespread changes in the Division of Family and Child Services.